Imagine the scene of a single overhead vintage style light dangling from a cord over some filing cabinets in a basement. The old drawers would creak in a way that almost sounded like metal being shredded as they were pulled open. A single folder was plucked from among the hundreds stuffed in there. The case file had gone cold decades ago. As I sat at my modest little table I referred to as my desk, I flipped on the goose neck lamp clipped to the side and began to go over the papers in the folder.
There was little information go on, but I had an edge over others. Nobody knew what I did about this missing persons case. Her name was Anita Kay Drake. She left home in 1963, on the 15th anniversary of her birthday, being October 14.This was personal for me because I made a promise to find her.
She was my aunt.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as a scene out of an old detective movie. It was a standard basement light. That old filing cabinet still sounds horrible when I pull it open though.
In 2007 I began the study of my own genealogy. My primary lines are Ralston (paternal) and Drake (maternal). I had grown up knowing nothing about my Ralston-side and since then I have pieced together every bit of info possible to explain why there were so few of us today. The Ancestry.com website was helpful with an indexed census, but that was all I used it for. Over the next three years, I drove thousands of miles from county to county searching their records for any trace of my family. As a child I heard the story about how my line was Scottish and that we came from Ireland through Pennsylvania and settled into Ohio, which I proved true. But there was another story I heard as a child, and I heard it more often as my mother would recall it frequently over the years. It was about her sister who ran away from home. Her name was Anita.
Anita Kay Drake was the 7th child of Kermit and Virginia (Thompson) Drake. He was a steel worker and she was a home maker. Money was tight and often times the table was dressed with the labors of a garden, foraging, or hunting. If it weren’t for the latter, the family would have gone without.
That Fateful Day
It was Monday afternoon on October 14, 1963, Anita’s 15th birthday, about 3:30 pm. School had been routine as a Monday would be, but that day she would make a decision to change the course of her life.
Her younger sister, Debby, aged 9 years, was sitting outside on the porch waiting for Anita to come home from school because it was her birthday. As Anita approached the porch, she told Debby quietly that she was leaving that day, then went into the house and asked her mother for a nickle to buy a candy bar at the Campion store just down the road. It was a dairy store that sold treats and had pinball machines where teens would gather to socialize and have a soda. The Drakes lived on Victory Ave on the very edge of Louisville (English pronunciation) and Campion was a store near the intersection of Victory and Rt. 153.
When she came out to leave, Debby was sitting on the white rock near the driveway by the road. Anita was wearing a short sleeve white pullover with a white windbreaker, a gray skirt, no socks, and white tennis shoes. Her hair was combed to the side and held in place with 2 bobby pins. She was thin built and stood about 5’3, weighing in at maybe 100lbs soaking wet.
As Anita walked out to the road, Debby jumped off from the rock to follow. “You can’t go with me” said Anita. “You know I’m leaving and you can’t come.”
“Please take me with you”, begged Debby.
Anita said as she hugged Debby, “When you’re old enough, get away from these people. Don’t trust Linda or Cheryl and stay away from your brothers.” With those final words, Debby watched her older sister Anita walk down the road and into history, never to be seen again by her family. Left behind were her clothes, any few personal possessions, and a watch sitting on the dresser in their bedroom that was a birthday present she never received from her parents. She took nothing with her.
You cannot pick your parents or your siblings or even your socio-economic status, but what Anita figured she could do was pick her destiny and she decided to change it.
In 1963, all 12 children were born. Of all the children, only the youngest three were home that day. Debby, who got to watch Anita leave, then Timmy, and Junior, while Roger, Alan, and the rest were not home or lived elsewhere. The last one to see or talk to Anita was Debby.
There had been a traveling talent act that had come through town at this time and Anita had made friends with one who is recalled as being the magician of the group, they were said to be from California. She had met him the year before and their acquaintance was renewed in 1963. They would perform at schools and continue on in a route. They were leaving town that Monday to move on and it was with these people whom Anita was given a seat that fateful Monday. No evidence of these people were ever found, even though the local paper had been searched. Without a name, or date, or place, it is virtually impossible to find someone. All of the yearbooks for Louisville High School were searched too, but neither these people nor Anita ever appeared in any of them. It seems that Anita avoided the camera when possible.
They lived in a small house and with so many children, space was limited. Cheryl, Anita, and Debby shared a bed. Because Cheryl and Anita fought a lot, they refused to sleep next to each other and kept Debby in the middle. Cheryl had left home the year before leaving Anita and Debby to split the bed. After Anita left in October 1963, Debby got the bed all to herself. A poor consultation prize for the loss of a sister and possibly the only protector for the coming years.
Kermit did work a lot and when he wasn’t at the plant, he was working to provide food for the table; but there were rules enforced in the house when he was around. One of them was for no swearing and absolutely no back talking. A few days prior to leaving, Anita had come in too late, well after dark and her bed time, and her father told her that she had no business being out late. She responded with “go to hell”, and discipline was immediately administered with his belt.
But this one incident was not the reason for her leaving. She was more than tired of the abuse brought on by her older brothers. Not all of them. Just certain ones. They were physically, verbally, and even sexually abusive. It was this that drove her away. There was no cry for help. Each girl left home as soon as they could. Linda and Cheryl both married young. Anita left. Debby was shuffled from house to house in her teens until she could get a job and live on her own. The boys had many run-ins with the law. Leonard was caught once too many times and was given the option by a judge to go to jail or the Army. Leonard chose the latter, which is how he came to be in Korea in 1963. The U. S. Army did a fair job of straightening out his rebellious attitude after some new teeth were put in. There’s no point in talking about the other brothers, unless a reason is given.
Anita had not come home that Monday night of her birthday. The watch which was her birthday present, sat untouched on a dresser. Tuesday had come and went. By Wednesday, Kermit and Virginia began their search for Anita because she had not been at school either. It would not be uncommon to stay at a friend or relative’s house, but to not be at school meant truancy and legal troubles. Soon after her parents determined she was indeed gone, they reported her missing and a hunt was made for years afterwards. Any lead they received they chased down, from Cleveland to Columbus. They never moved or changed their phone number in the hopes that Anita would call or come home. Neither would happen. Virginia remained hopeful that maybe one day Anita would be found. She passed away in 2007 never knowing the fate of their daughter. Kermit passed away in 2002.
On March 3, 1964, Junior, the youngest, was playing with matches in the closet of Debby’s room. After he lit her clothes on fire, he waited until it was too late to stop the carnage about to happen. A childish dispute between a 4 and 9 year old had dire consequences for the whole family. The ensuing fire destroyed the house. Anything that had been Anita’s was lost. Those who were living at the house were without a home or even clothes. It was a terrible time for them. The children were sent to live with friends and relatives while every attempt was made to rebuild the house.
My Search Takes A Different Turn
In March 2013 I received an email from a cold case worker asking about Anita. They had seen a listing for my private tree on the Ancestry.com website. During the email exchange that followed, they asked if I would agree to have Anita’s information submitted to the NamUs database for missing persons. After serious deliberation and consideration, I believed it to be the best course of action to take and provided a picture too. I did not believe that Anita had been kidnapped or killed, but I had a hope, and a prayer, that if I did this and a picture went with it, that just maybe a child of Anita would see the picture and recognize her as their mother. I hadn’t a thought to the fact that it had been 50 years since she left or the impact it would have by sharing this information. I received an email soon afterwards confirming the addition of her name and information the NamUs database.
In October 2013 a front page article appeared in the local paper, The Repository (Canton, Ohio), much to my shock. My cousins were all buzz on Facebook. Some were mad and I was stupefied how such a thing came to be. After reading the things my aunt and uncles had to say, there was a major disagreement and words exchanged between I and my mother’s family. Some of them I have not spoken to since. They continued to ridicule for me for “not being there” yet claimed to know “the truth” regardless of what I said. The reporter who wrote the article was contacted and I spoke with her for an hour or two explaining why most everything in her article was wrong. I had to ask the question to how was I completely left out of the loop. She explained that someone at NamUs realized it was a 50th anniversary of a disappearance and a phone call was made to the Stark County Sheriff’s office who, in turn, called the The Repository. The reporter then went back to the last known address to see if she could find any relatives. Fortunately for her, a branch of the family was still there.
In the article, Roger was quoted to say horrible things about a family friend. This family friend was John, and I happened to remember him. He was a troublemaker in his youth, but he was far from the predator Roger claimed him to be. As I escalated my protest to the family about such details, it led no where but to ill will. It does no good to talk ill of the dead who proved their innocence, for they were not even in the State at the time Anita ran away, but for Roger to call him a predator was a very low blow. We all know who the real sexual predator, pedophile, and pervert is, Roger.
Maybe if Linda hasn’t used Anita like a dedicated baby sitter, she might of had the normal problems of a teen age girl, minus the other crap.
Unfortunately, the “four siblings” of the article said no others were living from the original 12. I had questioned the reporter why my mother was not included. She told me that they (my aunt and 3 uncles) said they were the only ones living, so the reporter was naturally just a little bit shocked when I told her there were more. My mother is very much alive and so is her brother Tim. To these four siblings, the other two were dead. What does that tell you about these four?
Relatives were contacting my mother to see if she had died.
After Years Of Searching, This Happened
Prior to 2013, there was nothing to be found of an “Anita Drake” through Google searches and every database I could access, paid or free. I know. I spent a lot of money and time meticulously searching each one. There were others by the name of Anita Drake, but none were close to what I was looking for. My only hope of finding her lay in that she had kept the same birth date. I would investigate every person I found who shared that same birth day, but each one turned into a dead end.
After October 2013, the internet suddenly exploded with pictures of Anita and the excerpts from the story in the Repository. I had regretted submitting the information to the NamUs database then. I couldn’t believe the wild stories I would read on websites about her. There were everything from brutal killings, ritual sacrifices, and even mental illness. I had inadvertently created a mire of internet muck to search through. I even found a published book with Anita’s “story” in it for sale that included a picture of her. Shame on that author for not doing a better job of vetting the information she is profiting from.
What was unknown to the rest of the family is that Anita did, in fact, keep in touch with select people.
The last time my mother, Debby, heard from Anita was 1975. Yes, the same 9 year old girl who begged Anita to take her too, that shared a bed and room with her, is my mother.
The last contact from Anita came in 1975. She said she had changed her name, but for the protection of her friends and my mother, she would not tell what it was. She also said it was the best decision she ever made and very happy with her life. Anita was never heard from since.
In the mid 90’s my mother knew that Anita was no longer alive. I do remember her telling me this when it happened. She just knew in her soul. I’ve known my mother my entire life. When she’s had these type of feelings, they’ve never been wrong.
In September 2016, I had run out of places and things to search. I could not find a database that had not been scoured. Then in October 2016, the prayer I made when submitting the information was answered. A child of Anita recognized the missing person as her mother. The very thing I had hoped for had come to pass. A 53 year old mystery was finally solved. Another brick wall broken. The lies and myths are at last dispelled.
Anita wasn’t kidnapped or killed. She left to find a better life than the one she had.
I only ever agreed to have Anita’s information submitted to the NamUs database in the hopes that somebody somewhere out there some where would see her picture and recognize Anita as their mother. I thank God that my prayer was answered. It must really be a bad feeling for the people who called me a liar and other names to discover that I was, in fact, telling the truth the whole time. Would it be possible for them to admit they were wrong and apologize? After all, if I had believed she was killed, I never would have began my search looking for her that led to the resolution today. Three years ago, I didn’t play the victim “seeking closure”. I was busy looking for the answer. I knew who, I knew why, I just needed to find the where. The reason why my “new” first cousin knows about her mother’s family is because I chose to believe my mother.
Thank you, Danna, for looking one more time, one more time for your mother’s name. Welcome to the family. I have a lot to show you, if or when you’re ready.
Shame on my aunt and uncles for slandering me. Shame on them denying my mother was alive. Shame on them for being the glory hounds they’ve proven their self to be. Shame on all of them who believe their lies too. Shame on the Stark County Sheriff for disregarding my contact information to the case. Shame on NamUs for doing the same thing.
Regardless of these things, the greater good has come to light. I am really disappointed that the reporter for the Canton Repository left my name out of everything (again!), even after I sent her the emails and screen shots she cited in the article.
The truth always deserves to be told.
Links to the Canton Repository articles: